A 17-year-old high school intern has managed to get a huge career-level achievement that most could dream of.
Most teenagers do not expect much when they get their first internship. Most of the time, interns are just looking to get job skills, get some networking done, and hopefully get some earning. This was not the case with the 17-year-old Wolf Cukier. He took things one step further and discovered an entirely new planet.
Wolf arrived at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 2019, hoping to learn as much as he can in this internship. He was given the task of examining the data collected by the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite). The TESS is a planet-hunting satellite roaming in outer space since 2018.
Wolf noticed a ping from the data he was poring over on the third day at his position. At first, he assumed that it was just an eclipse. However, soon he realized that he had found an undiscovered planet, now named TOI-1338 b.
“I was looking through the data for everything the volunteers had flagged as an eclipsing binary, a system where two stars circle around each other and from our view eclipse each other every orbit,” Cukier told NBC News.
“About three days into my internship, I saw a signal from a system called TOI 1338,” Cukier continued. “At first, I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet.”
After more than a year since this discovery, NASA published a comprehensive report giving all the details that they have about TOI-1338 b.
The planet is about the size of Saturn and is around 6.9 times larger than the Earth. Since the planet is a gas exoplanet like Neptune, it is very likely to be unlivable. This planet is the only planet in its system. It orbits its two stars that are like the sun every 95 days.
Although one star is around 10% larger than our sun, the other one is a lot dimmer, cooler, and is a lot less large than our sun. Because one-star usually blocks the other star from our vantage point on Earth, the intern thought that he had seen an eclipse at first. TOI-1338 b has now joined the list of the planets that NASA is aware of orbits two stars. Not only did discovering this planet change Wolf’s life and added an amazing achievement to his résumé, but it also started a conversation across the internet discussing how great the planet looks. One image rendered by NASA showed that the TOI-1338 planet has a pinkish, rosy hue. Although we can still not capture the actual images of these beautiful planets, we can thank the intern for showing us a brand new world to imagine.